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2021 Articles

Taylor Hawes, Nature Conservancy, Colorado River Program Director

Taylor Hawes is the Colorado River Program Director for the Nature Conservancy. CRWUA asked her two questions ahead of this year’s conference:

What is happening in the Colorado River Basin that makes you optimistic?

The thing that makes me most optimistic is the people – the group of stakeholders who wake up thinking about the Colorado River every day. The Colorado River Basin is often held up as a model for adapting to a drying and hotter climate. Our successes have been because of people being willing to work together to find real solutions. I am hopeful that those successes have laid the groundwork for us to tackle this next set of challenges associated with the River drying much more quickly than most people expected. Progress happens at the speed of trust and I hope that the years of working together and building trust will allow us to find solutions for this River system and everyone and everything that depends on it. I also hope we can pick up the pace as we no longer have the luxury of time.

On a related note, many stakeholders have been focused on the next interim guidelines. In the meantime, the river continues to drop and the stakes are getting much higher. Another thing that gives me hope is the partnerships between the stakeholders to find solutions on the ground. Many of the challenges facing our rivers, farms and communities are local. In addition to solving the River’s governance issues, we also need to address more local and state challenges. Many in the tribal, agricultural, municipal and conservation sectors have been finding new ways of working together to develop solutions. We should continue to advance and foster those local and regional solutions. In addition, with the passage of the Infrastructure Bill, we now have access to significant funding to build on these partnerships and solutions.

What do you think the “Law of the River” will look like going forward?

I think the Law of the River needs to do two important things as it evolves to meet the growing challenge of a hotter, drier future. It needs to acknowledge the changed river hydrology and move away from a sense of entitlement, and it needs to recognize reality that flows throughout the Basin could drop even more. To meet the challenge of our new reality, the Law of the River needs to become much more flexible. I think we can develop a framework that honors the intent and “percentage” allocations of the 1922 Compact while creating a dimmer switch approach to reduce allocations when Mother Nature doesn’t provide. We need an approach that will flex when there is more or less water. As it stands today, the Law of the River is too rigid to accommodate much lower average flows, but I think it could be adapted in a way that honors the intent of the 1922 Compact while recognizing that, to quote Greg Hobbs, “Mother Nature bats last”.